In a Land With No Soccer, Group Hopes to Use It to Score Climate Goals
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Soccer has very little presence in the Marshall Islands. The atoll nation, with a population of 60,000, has no domestic fixture, dedicated playing fields or organized local teams, let alone a national team — making it a global anomaly.
This is because of the lingering influence of U.S. control over the nation, which popularized sports like baseball, basketball and volleyball, according to Shem Livai, who lives in the nation’s capital, Majuro. While nearly every village has a basketball court, he said, soccer pitches are nonexistent. And although you’ll see locals kicking a ball around in church groups and schools, organized soccer matches are rare.
Mr. Livai is the founder and president of a group, called the Marshall Islands Soccer Federation, trying to change that and create a national soccer team.
It’s an uphill battle in a nation that has never had any real interest in the sport. And the group is also facing — and trying to draw attention to — an existential risk that threatens everything, from where the teams can play to whether they’ll even have a nation to play for: climate change.
“If climate change gets worse, we won’t have any land to play soccer on,” Mr. Livai said.
This week, another Pacific Island nation, Vanuatu, secured a historic vote at the United Nations that will allow the world’s highest court to establish, for the first time, the obligations countries have to address climate change. It speaks to the outsized role that Pacific Island nations and their residents — politicians to youth activists to sporting enthusiasts — are playing in the climate debate, as well as the oversized risks they face.
Islands in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and many are already starting to see the impacts.
Many of the Marshall Islands’ atolls may be uninhabitable by the 2050s because of rising oceans, according to studies. In Majuro, Mr. Livai said, flooding events that used to be seasonal are now happening “every full moon,” washing over small islands from coast to coast, ruining crops and destroying homes, while families are already migrating to other countries, with the nation’s net population on the decline.
This is what the soccer federation wants to raise awareness for, Mr. Livai said. “With this attention, the eye of the world, we want to show that our country is suffering from climate change and the world must come together to find ways to eliminate climate change.”
But how do you establish a sport in a nation where it’s never had a presence?
It starts at the community level, according to Mr. Livai.
“We’re trying to build a very strong foundation,” he said, adding: “Because everything is so new, the sport is new, we must educate and train the locals.”
The group is relying on donations to get necessary equipment like balls, goal posts and uniforms. With the help of a British soccer coach, it’s planning to train local teachers who can teach school students. Mr. Livai hopes that the involvement of more and more children will create a “domino effect” that will lead to more widespread interest.
Progress on the project has been slow-going, he acknowledged. Although the soccer federation was formed in 2020, it only started to pick up traction in 2022, when the British soccer coach, Lloyd Owens, heard about it and decided to get involved. Their effort has been buoyed by the construction of the first dedicated soccer field in the nation, for the Micronesian Games later this year.
They hope to start an official league in the next few months and have an official national team up and running by the following year, Mr. Livai said, with an aim to bring home Marshallese players who have emigrated and picked up the sport in other countries. By mid-2025, he said, he hopes that they’ll have a national team that is ready to compete.
Now for this week’s news:
Australia and New Zealand
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An Anxious Asia Arms for a War It Hopes to Prevent. Doubts about both China and the United States are driving an arms race in the Indo-Pacific with echoes of World War II and new levels of risk.
A River Choking on Fish Corpses, and a Community Full of Anger. It’s the latest clash over a river basin in New South Wales, Australia, in an arid land where social, economic and environmental interests collide over water issues.
Around the Times
A President Faces Prosecution, and a Democracy Is Tested. For more than two centuries, American presidents were effectively shielded from indictment. But the case against former President Donald J. Trump breaks that taboo and sets a new precedent.
A.I., Brain Scans and Cameras: The Spread of Police Surveillance Tech. In the Middle East, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies have become part of everyday policing.
Finland Clears Last Hurdle to Joining NATO. Finland’s entry into the military alliance after Turkey formally signed off is a significant defeat for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Just Try Looking Away From Gwyneth Paltrow’s Ski Crash Trial. The actress-turned-businesswoman is at the center of a trial that became a fierce debate over a simple question: Who skied into whom? The online public is rapt.
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